What Are the Risks of Buying an RV You Have Never Seen?

Updated on February 12, 2020
TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

I have had a great deal of experience both buying and selling RVs and think people should understand the mechanics of doing these things.

With RV prices skyrocketing, it has become a fairly common and very risky practice for people to scour the internet for good deals and then buy a motorhome, travel trailer or camper sight unseen. Normally, those who do something like this are new to recreational vehicles and know little about them. However, even if they are experienced, the fact of the matter is that making the purchase of a coach without being able to personally inspect and drive it is never a good idea.

Here's why.

This RV is full of black mold.  Can you tell it from this photo?
This RV is full of black mold. Can you tell it from this photo? | Source

1. Mechanical Problems Can Be Serious

The number one reason for taking this type of risk is to save money. Clearly, if you have the choice of paying $150,000 or $125,000 for the same year, model, and brand of coach, why wouldn’t you want do so?

$25,000 is a lot of money, so to many, the savings might be worth the seemingly small risk. They assume that by cutting their purchase costs, they’ll have plenty of money left over to take care of any necessary repairs. What they often don’t realize is that certain problems in coaches cannot be repaired at any cost. Even those that can could easily eat up any money that was saved in the first place!

For example, one couple bought a brand new motorhome sight unseen. They made the assumption that because it was new, it would be problem free. Unfortunately, they were wrong. After spending more than $300,000 in purchase costs and attorney's fees and making numerous visits to various RV repair shops, they discovered that the problem with their coach could not be fixed. Worse yet, they learned that there were no RV lemon laws in their state that would protect them, so the loss was totally theirs.

Things like this don't happen often, but the point is that when they do, the result can be financially devastating.

Buying an RV you have never personally seen is very risky.
Buying an RV you have never personally seen is very risky. | Source

2. Sellers Can't Be Trusted

Whether you are negotiating with an individual or dealer, relying on a seller's word that the RV you want to purchase is in good condition is always a mistake.

Unfortunately, it’s one that just about all buyers make, and it is one that can end up costing them plenty. Even new coaches right out of the factory can have all sorts of problems. (What You Need to Know About RV Manufacturing Rip Offs explains more about this issue.) Buyers should always bear in mind that if the asking price for a particular unit is far below the NADA value, there is a reason. The trick is to find out exactly what that reason is before you plunk your money down on the sales table.

Few sellers will be truthful about the negatives, so if you cannot be personally present to play detective, you won’t know about problems until it’s too late. Shoppers often see what appears to be a great deal when they check out the RVs that are for sale on the internet. However, most online sellers, especially those who offer their coaches on sites such as eBay, want immediate deposits to hold a coach and then demand that buyers pay the entire amount due within a few days.

If the unit is located hundreds or thousands of miles away, policies like this leave little time for inspections or clear-headed decisions. This is exactly why sellers use them. They don’t want you to inspect closely or have time to make educated choices. They want you to buy, no matter how many problems a coach may have, and they will never disclose the truth because they know that doing so will kill any chance of selling a coach.

Some even offer inspection and delivery services for a fee, so that people will feel more secure about making a purchase. However, trusting strangers to decide for you that a travel unit is in good condition is not a smart move.

It is a good rule of thumb to never trust sellers, be they local or at a distance because their only goal is to sell. Your only goal should be to buy with as little risk as possible!

Would you buy this coach sight unseen?
Would you buy this coach sight unseen? | Source

3. RV Photos Always Lie

One of the big ironies about RVs is that they can be in horrible shape, but will look terrific when carefully photographed.

You can look at beautiful photos of refrigerators, engines and generators all day long, but you can’t know if they work if you are not personally there to inspect them, take test drives, check for cleanliness and leaks or peruse maintenance records.

The same is true for tires. Tires can have a lot of tread on them, but this does not mean they are safe. Any tire older than 5 years needs to be replaced, and this can cost thousands of dollars.

Until you can see, touch and smell a recreational vehicle yourself, you really can have no idea about it.

Photos rarely show the true story, so trusting them is very risky.

4. Buying Sight Unseen Means Added Risk

If you have paid close attention to what I have written here, you should have been able to figure out by now that buying an RV sight unseen can be a huge risk.

Sometimes people get lucky, but the majority wind up owning units that have

  • slide rooms that don’t work properly,
  • delamination problems,
  • leaks,
  • odors that make travel miserable

and other problems that are frustrating, time consuming and expensive to repair.

I have met owners of brand new units who have complained about broken floor joists, windows that have literally fallen out of their coaches and air support systems that were the wrong size for the RVs they had purchased.

I have also met owners of used units who have similar complaints.

Either way, there is no way to know what you're getting unless you do a hands-on inspection.

It simply is not worth the risk to do otherwise.

5. Buyers Must Always Be Careful

Years ago, my husband and I made the mistake of putting a deposit on a motorhome without first seeing it. We thought our years of experience would protect us, but we were wrong. The seller lied through his teeth, but his story made sense and the photos looked great. The price was almost too good to pass up! We spent hundreds of dollars flying out to his location, only to learn that the motorhome was a total mess.

However, we had no way to get back to the airport and had not made reservations because we had planned to drive the coach home. So, we wrote him a check for the balance. Within the first 24 hours we discovered that

  • the generator stopped working,
  • most of the furniture was in such bad condition that we had to throw it away,
  • there had been serious leaks that had caused a black mold problem, and
  • the unit had been in several accidents which had caused major body damage.

After months of making major renovations, purchasing new furniture, and cleaning up the leak and mold problems, we ended up selling the unit for $3,000 less than we had in it. Had it not been for my husband's mechanical ability, the loss would have been much worse.

Were we crazy to buy this coach sight unseen? You bet! Will we ever do something this stupid again? Absolutely not!

I hope that after reading this article, you’ll think twice before taking the risk of buying a recreational vehicle without first seeing it. If two highly experienced RV owners could make this type of mistake, anybody can, so buyer beware!

After reading this article, would you still buy an RV sight unseen if it seemed like a good deal?

See results

© 2017 Sondra Rochelle


Submit a Comment
  • TIMETRAVELER2 profile imageAUTHOR

    Sondra Rochelle 

    3 years ago from USA

    Coffeequeen: Well, I have 106 more articles here that you can take a look at if you want to learn more about RV living and travel. If you love to travel, RVing is the way to go!

  • Coffeequeeen profile image

    Louise Powles 

    3 years ago from Norfolk, England

    Interesting article. I'd love to own something like this. I love traveling. =)


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